New York Times
Many people knowledgeable about the federal budget said House Republicans could not keep their campaign promise to cut $100 billion from domestic spending in a single year. Now it appears that Republicans agree.
As they prepare to take power on Wednesday, Republican leaders are scaling back that number by as much as half, aides say, because the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, will be nearly half over before spending cuts could become law.
While House Republicans were never expected to succeed in enacting cuts of that scale, given opposition in the Senate from the Democratic majority and some Republicans, and from President Obama, a House vote would put potentially vulnerable Republican lawmakers on record supporting deep reductions of up to 30 percent in education, research, law enforcement, transportation and more.
Now aides say that the $100 billion figure was hypothetical, and that the objective is to get annual spending for programs other than those for the military, veterans and domestic security back to the levels of 2008, before Democrats approved stimulus spending to end the recession.
Yet “A Pledge to America,” the manifesto House Republicans published last September, included the promise, “We will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone.”
Republican leaders have repeatedly invoked the number. On Tuesday the Web site for Representative John A. Boehner, the incoming House speaker, included a link to his national radio address on the Saturday before the midterm elections, in which he said, “We’re ready to cut spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving roughly $100 billion almost immediately.”
Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who will become chairman of the House Budget Committee, said in December that the goal was to cut “a good $100 billion.” At issue is so-called discretionary domestic spending, which is about one-sixth of the federal budget and does not include the more expensive and fast-growing entitlement programs like Medicare.
On Tuesday, aides to Mr. Ryan and Mr. Boehner blamed Democrats’ failure to pass the regular appropriations bills for fiscal year 2011 for forcing Republicans to reduce their goal to perhaps $50 billion to $60 billion.
“House Republicans will continue to work to reduce spending for the final six months of this fiscal year — bringing nonsecurity discretionary spending back to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels — yielding taxpayers significant savings and starting a new era of cost cutting in Washington,” said Conor Sweeney, communications director for Mr. Ryan.
Because Democrats did not pass appropriations bills last year, the government has been operating since October with appropriations continuing at the previous fiscal year’s levels. It will do so until March 4, five months into this fiscal year.
The current spending levels are lower than Mr. Obama had requested for nonmilitary programs; he proposed a freeze at 2010 levels but with increases for some favored programs. The Republicans’ campaign promise was based on their calculation they could cut $100 billion from Mr. Obama’s higher levels.
Yet when Republicans issued their pledge last fall, it was clear that Congress would resort to a stopgap spending measure for at least part of 2011 and that, assuming Republicans won a majority, they would not be able to start work until the new Congress convened this month.
Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said, “I think they woke up to the reality that this will have a direct negative impact on people’s lives.
“You know, it’s easy to talk about these things in the abstract. It’s another thing when you start taking away people’s college loans and Pell Grants or cutting early education programs.”